Smaller Gulps

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New York politicians have been trying for years — mostly without success — to enact regulations intended to curb the consumption of sugary beverages. We covered then-Governor David Paterson’s effort to impose a tax on sugary drinks in 2009, which fizzled once it became clear that not enough state legislators supported the measure. But New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg seems unfazed by that episode, opting instead to support a measure that requires no approval from the state government or even from New York’s city council.

As The New York Times reported late last month, Bloomberg has announced that his administration will seek to ban the sale of sugary (not diet) soft drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces. The move would affect all vendors regulated by the city’s health department, which leaves some notable exceptions. Included are restaurants, delis, movie theaters, and sports venues, along with most mobile food and beverage vendors such as carts and food trucks. But newsstands and vending machines, along with most convenience stores and grocery stores, would not be affected by the regulation. To become law, the proposal must be approved in a series of steps by the city’s Board of Health — whose entire membership was appointed by Bloomberg.

According to the Times article, beverages containing at least 25 calories in an eight-ounce serving — with the exception of beverages composed of over 50% milk — would fall under the size restriction. This means, for example, that sweetened iced tea would be subject to the restriction, while a cappuccino or latte containing over 50% milk — even if heavily sweetened — would not. Beverages that are at least 70% juice would also not be subject to the restriction.

Reactions to Bloomberg’s proposal were decidedly mixed, with no strong ideological bent among either supporters or opponents. The New York Times editorial board came out against the proposal, suggesting that it will alienate people who might otherwise be receptive to the message that too much soda can be harmful. In New York’s Daily News, however, Jeff O’Connell counters that the effort does not go far enough, in light of current rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. What’s needed instead, he writes, are warning labels and graphic images (such as of his own father’s diabetes-related foot amputation) on the containers of sugary beverages. Meanwhile, conservative columnist David Frum came out in support of the restriction, while liberal comedian Jon Stewart mocked and denounced it.

What do you think — will restricting the size of soft drink containers lead people to drink less of them (or will a backlash lead people to drink more)? Would any resulting reduction in sugar consumption have a meaningful impact on rates of obesity or diabetes? Do you feel that this proposal improperly restricts personal freedom? Or are you grateful for measures, such as this one, aimed at creating good habits and fostering self-control? Leave a comment below!

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